Northern Inland Football has scrapped the Premier League in favour of new North and South conferences, in a monumental restructuring of senior soccer in the region for the start of the 2020 season.
NIF general manager Julia Farina announced the restructuring on Thursday, with the North and South conferences both to consist of eight teams. The North Conference will consist of the four Armidale clubs who contested the old Premier League, plus four more clubs to be drawn from New England, which features Armidale, Inverell, Guyra and Glen Innes clubs, via nominations.
The South Conference will consist of the three Tamworth clubs from the old Premier League plus five more clubs. They will drawn from the Tamworth competition via a nomination process.
Both conferences will play a 14-round home-and-away series, with a four-round cross-conference finals series. NIF competitions administrator, Toby McVey, said the restructuring would give clubs like South United "a chance to join it [the South conference] after a lot of talk of about wanting to join a higher grade".
"It'll also give clubs like Inverell and Gunnedah the opportunity to rejoin the premier division," he said.
The criteria for clubs wanting to join the new premier division includes their 2019 performance and their ability to field first- and reserve-grade sides.
McVey said: "Both the New England league and the Tamworth competitions, first and reserve grade the last couple of years, have been very strong. Gunnedah and Souths [have played] finals.
"Moore Creek is a new club that's entered. They had a strong first year. So [we are] giving them an opportunity to play higher level football."
Through the restructuring Tamworth and Armidale's first- and reserve-grade competitions have been merged into the South and North conferences.
"Most clubs will make the premier competitions," McVey said.
"The clubs that don't will have the opportunity to field division three and division four teams in the new conferences."
McVey said clubs were not required to field division three and division four sides: they could field just one side.
Farina said there were a number of factors that led to the restructure.
"There's a couple of factors. We've looked at football across the board from five years all the way through to the seniors. And the things is, football is strong in our community," she said.
"But what we've also got to keep in mind is that we've got a number of people that we're providing a service to. So we've got juniors, we've got youth and we've got seniors.
"So we're hoping that the restructure of the senior competition, and also placing some restrictions on the the juniors playing in the seniors (a player must be aged 16 or turning 16 the year of the competition to play in the seniors) will build our junior or our youth base again and will also bring people back to the game into the senior competitions."